This week (2 August) marks 103 years since the Australian Great Strike - one of the most tumultuous events in the history of the country. The strike involved 100,000 workers and spread far beyond New South Wales where it began.
Trouble started following an innocuous managerial decision in a Sydney rail yard. The Chief Commissioner introduced a card system listing tasks that workers had to do with times allocated to complete them.
The unions saw this as a direct challenge to their work practices and feared slow and inefficient workers would be sacked. Events escalated quickly. Daily mass demonstrations took place which soon became violent. In Melbourne, for example, 20,000 marchers angrily confronted a large police cordon.
There were ongoing battles between demonstrators and ‘strike breakers,’ employed by the rail companies.
And all this at a time of war.
The strike, which also led to food shortages, ended in November 1917 when the unions gave in. Prominent strike leaders were victimized and targeted for harsh treatment.
Trust between managers and workers was totally destroyed. Trust between business and the unions didn’t improve for years to come – across the country and across all industries.
And sadly, although time has moved on, trust is still a major problem in Australian society.
We’ve written before about the Elderman Trust barometer. The barometer is the result of a survey where participants are asked ‘ how much do you trust institutions to do what is right?’ It is the largest and longest running tool to measure trust in society: “A Matter of Trust”
One can only wonder what the barometer would show in 1917. However, in 2020 it paints a bleak picture across all Australian institutions: media, government, business and NGOs.
‘Trust in Australia continues to decline across all 4-institutions with 5-year lows for each. Trust in media is at an all-time low of 31%, government is 35%, business 45% and NGOs 48%. All 4-institutions are now in ‘distrusted territory.’
But it’s in the workplace that trust plays a dominant part in our day-to-day lives - and it’s critical to the culture of the company we work for.
The evidence is plain to see - building a positive work culture isn’t about ‘throwing the latest HR initiatives at the wall’ and seeing what sticks.
Writers like Bob Chapman (‘Everybody Matters’) and Simon Sinek (see, for example Chapter 7 ‘Trusted Teams’ in ‘The Infinite Game’) are clear that it is the ‘softer more emotional’ aspects of our corporate lives that need to be worked on - and trust is the essential ingredient.
Trust is the foundation of most of what we want at work – engagement, commitment to each other accountability, collaboration and working together, innovation, success and well-being.
Without trust – none of these are sustainable.
So here’s a little exercise to help build trust at work:
Think about the people you work with – your manager, peers or direct reports. Which end of the following spectrum do they come nearest to?
✅ TRUST – ‘I choose to make things that are important to me and make me vulnerable subject to your confidence and actions,
❌ DISTRUST – ‘what is important to me that I have shared with you isn’t safe with you. (Charles Feltman – ‘YouTube webinars on Trust’)).
For those relationships that fall closer to the ‘distrust’ category, think through the following framework to see where improvements can be made (Brene Brown ‘Dare to Lead’).
B-R-A-V-I-N-G – because when we trust someone we are braving connection with them.
B – Boundaries – I trust you if we are clear about your boundaries and you hold them and you are clear about my boundaries and you respect them.
R – Reliability – I can only trust you if you do what you say – not once but every time.
A – Accountability – I can only trust you if when you make a mistake you own it, apologize for it and make amends. When I make a mistake I am allowed to own it, apologize for it and make amends.
V – Vault – What I share with you will be held in confidence - what you share with me I will hold in confidence.
I – Integrity – I cannot trust you if you do not act from a place of integrity – you want the best for me.
N – None Judgement – I ask for help from you without being judged by you.
G – Generosity – Our relationship is only trusting if you can make generous assumptions about me. (For example, you know there must be a good reason why I haven’t returned your call).
And if improvements need to be made, be brave and have the conversation.